PLAYOFF PREVIEW

Dynamo-SKC: Breaking down the playoff opener

Alberth Ellis and the Dynamo hope to celebrate again tonight. Photo by Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Every time the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City have met in the playoffs, the winner has gone on to play in the MLS Cup Final. In this case, both teams are just focused on getting to the next round.

The Dynamo return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a three year absence, going through three different head coaches and heavy roster turnover in that span. They enter Thursday’s match as the hottest team in the Western Conference, undefeated in their last six encounters.

Sporting KC, meanwhile, have been a poster child of consistency in the league as evidenced by their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. Their end to the regular season, however, has been anything but as they finished winless in their last five matches.

Both team’s will be without a key defensive star. Dynamo defender A.J. DeLaGarza - second in minutes played for the team this season - suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, ending his season. Sporting will be without Tim Melia - the favorite to win the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award - who suffered a hamstring injury earlier this month.

The one game elimination in the knockout round will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium - where the Dynamo have only lost one of their 17 home games. The venue was decided just last Sunday as Houston jumped Kansas City to become the 4th seed.

A winner must be decided. Two extra time periods of 15 minutes will be contested if the match finishes tied in regulation, with team’s able to use an additional substitution in extra time. If no winner is crowned after 120 minutes, the match will be decided by penalty kicks.

Home cooking vs. traveling on short rest

Having this match in Houston is a huge win for the Dynamo. They have a 12-1-4 record at BBVA Compass Stadium this season - the only loss coming in the team’s first game after Hurricane Harvey - and have picked up 80% of their points there. Sporting KC have a 2-8-7 record on the road, are coming off playing in the altitude of Salt Lake City on Sunday and have had only a few days to focus on this match.

Scorching attack vs. league-best defense

The Dynamo are fifth in goals scored among Major League Soccer teams and feature the highest scoring offense in franchise history. The Dynamo’s core of forwards - Erick Torres, Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Romell Quioto - account for 41 of the team’s 57 goals, but anyone on the team is capable of scoring. They will face off against the team that allowed the least amount of goals in 2017 in Sporting Kansas City - the question is how much of that remains without Tim Melia in goal.

Battle of the minds

This game may not be looked at for the matchup between the two strategists but it does feature two of the better minds in MLS. Wilmer Cabrera, in only his second MLS head coaching job, has revamped the Dynamo roster under one of the league's lowest payrolls in his first year as the manager. He has gotten the most out of his players by rotating the squad throughout the year, using 32 different lineups in 34 matches.

On the other end of the sideline will be Peter Vermes, one of the current frontrunners for the U.S. Men’s National Team job. Vermes is the architect at SKC, having served as the technical director since 2006 and as head coach since taking the job as interim during the 2009 season. He led the club to its second MLS Cup title in 2013 and is the only one to win one as a player and manager for a club. The team also collected silverware this year by winning the U.S. Open Cup, eliminating a mostly second-string Dynamo in the process.

When: Thursday, October 26, 2017 (8:30 p.m. CT)

Where: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX

TV: KUBE 57 / UniMás (w/ SAP for English)

Where to watch online: MLSsoccer.com

Record vs SKC: 10 wins, 5 losses, 11 draws (undefeated in last eight league meetings)

Key players to watch: Erick Torres, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, Mauro Manotas

The Dynamo win if: The Dynamo have to come out with the right attitude. The team has left points on the table when playing overconfident at home. If they come out and take care of business with a strong mentality, they will prevail and host the Portland Timbers on Monday night.

SKC wins if: They are able to score. For as good a defense as they’ve had, SKC has struggled to find the back of the net. Two goals may be enough for KC to win this game but that’s easier said than done. At this point they have to come out swinging, they have nothing to lose.

Prediction: The Dynamo take care of a tired Kansas City and see out the win to pick up their first playoff win since 2013.

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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